The Dangers of Accommodation

University representative warns about housing risk for international students, saying that “often photographs can give an illusion”.

A Durham University representative has warned about the risk Erasmus students may incur when renting a house without university guidance, saying “often photographs can give an illusion.

Sharne Procter, the university’s International Student’s Officer, expressed her concern. “Far too many Erasmus students are booking houses early and are left with something less than desirable”.

The statement came after two Italian Erasmus students, Giulia Jacovella and Francesca Azzarà, came to the Tab to complain about the treatment they had received from the letting agency, Reeds Rains Lettings when booking and inhabiting their property in Gilesgate, 76 Prebends Field.

They had relied on the photographs and information that had been provided on the site which, according to Giulia, had shown the property “fully furnished and with all the equipment fixed and working”.

The site’s advert

When the two students arrived to their new homes in Durham, their expectations were not met. It was a sparsely furnished house with dirty mattresses, broken cupboards and not even a table, desk or chairs.

An email sent by Fran Mulhall, a Lettings Manager for Reeds Rains, on September 22nd explained the lack of furniture. “There are no tables and chairs that are supplied with the property. The risk with not viewing prior to taking the tenancy is that you have not seen what furnishings are left. Furnished properties do not have a requirement to come with a table and chairs.”

The issue for Giulia and Francesca was that they had to sign the contracts over fax and had to pay the agency a fee of £220 to secure the accommodation. All before they had even arrived in England.

Mulhall cited the legal reasons for this, “you needed to pay in advance as you are an international student, you would not pass our referencing for any of our properties due to not having a credit history in the UK”.

Since arriving in the property and attempting to correspond with the agency regarding repairs and advice on how to install Internet for the property, Giulia has felt frustrated. “We’ve been treated really badly by both the agency and the landlord,” she told The Tab.

With regards to Internet, Giulia was emailing the agency from July and it was not until October that she received a clear response from another employee, Laura Moyles.

On October 9, Moyles emailed the duo saying “internet connection is not your landlord’s responsibility nor Reeds Rains’ you will have to arrange your own telephone line and broadband connection… We do not have details for a telephone line or broadband, please contact BT to discuss the matter.”

With regards to the broken furniture, the agency advised that the landlord would not be repairing these and that it was not his legal obligation to do so.  He did, however, arrive to fix the flush on their toilet: although refused to speak to the girls.

“Now we have bought all that we need but the last inconvenience is the mould, which covers the shower, the doors and the walls of every room of the house so we have to wipe it with the bleach almost weekly,” said Giulia.

The National Landlords Association, when asked for their opinion on the situation, argued that whilst there is no definition of ‘furnished,’ it is still unfair to not expect a certain level of standard for international students so that they can study.

Sharne Procter has strongly advised prospective international students to use the university Accommodation Office.

“They have a lot of experience,” she says, “and someone who will really listen carefully, even if you are looking at a property with a landlord that is not registered with the accommodation office.

We recommend coming for a few nights and staying in a college to see properties in advance.”

The main issue is that most housing complaints have been to do with landlords not registered with the accommodation office. International students do not have the luxury of viewing properties before they settle into them and, if they do not go through the university, they have little or no information on Durham accommodation to aid in their selection.